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  • murrnyc


On Saturday, December 23, 2017, in the grace of God and the bosom of Holy Mother Church, MARIA ABUNDIA HERNANDEZ de OLIVA returned to her Creator.

The 1982 highway fatality that claimed the lives of her son and daughter-in-law moved Señora Maria to seek the counsel of her parish priest in San Luis Potosi [Mexico]. That same evening, I received a phone call from that priest explaining his parishioner’s serious predicament. [Padre Manuel M. and I studied together in Rome, back in the 70’s. Unlike myself, Padre Manuel was known for his piety and (even more unlike myself) his humility.] Two or three times during our conversation, Padre Manuel referred to Maria Hernandez de Oliva as a “living saint.” I remember taking special note of that descriptive, thinking to myself: “Here’s a saint impressed with another saint. This must be quite a special woman.” I told Padre Manuel to send her to me so that she and I might speak about “the precarious future of her 5 grandchildren.” Two days later, Maria Hernandez de Oliva arrived in town by bus. From downtown Tepatitlan, suitcase in hand, she climbed the steepest, longest hill in town and arrived at the front gate of Francisco Javier Orphanage just before noon.

At that time, the Sisters’ convent was the only “finished” part of the orphanage and housed three nuns, 40 children and myself.    

Though she looked somewhat older than her years, Señora Maria was in her early 50s. She supported her invalid husband in San Luis Potosi working as a maid to an American family in Chicago, Illinois. She explained the fatality that had robbed her of her much beloved son and daughter-in-law; more importantly, the tragedy had robbed five children of their beloved father and mother.    

Almost immediately, I understood Padre Manuel’s appraisal of this good woman. Her humility was palpable. Her shy tender smile was that of a blushing quinceañera. Her demeanor and soft manner of speech came from a soul living in deep communion with God and His holy will. And though I did not possess such graces, I could tell an authentic gem from a hypocritical counterfeit. Maria Hernandez de Oliva was the real thing. Padre Manuel was correct.

At that meeting I agreed to admit 10-year-old Victor, 8-year-old Alan, 6-year-old Grisol, 4-year-old Selene, and 3-year-old Maria Goretti into our unusual family. A week later, Maria Hernandez de Oliva accompanied the five children to the orphanage where they could be “reared, and ruled, and properly schooled” until they could fend for themselves as mature and responsible adults.

For her part, every year, from 1983 to 1999, Maria Hernandez de Oliva arrived at Francisco Javier Orphanage to spend her two months of annual vacation. From early morning to late night, her time was spent cooking, sowing, mending, cleaning and always praying. This was both her way of showing her deep gratitude to the orphanage, and of being a real and contributing part of her grandchildren’s lives. However, not only did she become and remain an integral part of her own grandchildren’s lives, Maria Hernandez de Oliva became everyone’s Grandmother! One hundred and forty-eight orphaned Mexican children, three Italian nuns, eight postulants and one American priest—all of us called her Abuelita, and Maria Hernandez de Oliva wore the title with honour and distinction.  

This is but one segment of a truly altruistic life. Maria Hernandez de Oliva sacrificed everything she had and all that she was for the good of others. Countless were her acts of charity; countless her prayers for others; countless the times we all were receptions of that tender, wonderful smile of our loving Grandmother.

At long last, Maria Abundia Hernandez de Oliva, may you rest in peace from all your many labors. All of us who loved you, and who were loved by you, long for the day when we will see you again in Trinitarian Love.

Adios, amada Abuelita. Hasta pronto.

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